Excursions to plant-related industries are frequently organised by CEPLAS to bring our young researchers early into contact with industry and thereby raise awareness of the differences between academic and industry-driven research.
Written by our early career researcher Mara.
All seats were taken in the meeting room that morning when we visited LemnaTec with 10 CEPLAS members. LemnaTec is a small company of around 30 employees located in Aachen in a modern industry park with a futuristic atmosphere.We were greeted and hosted by two friendly scientists named Dr. Marcus Jansen, a plant scientist, and Dr. Tino Dornbusch, an application engineer. Both joined LemnaTec about four years ago and have been academic postdocs before. Now they both work at the interface of application and customer interaction and are involved in most of the processes running at LemnaTec.
The company is specialised on the development of plant phenotyping equipment and corresponding software, which is used by scientists all over the world. Among the customers you find academic and non-academic research institutions as well as industry. LemnaTec’s main strength is the support of their clients in developing standardised phenotyping pipelines and translate phenotypes into reproducible numbers. Moreover, they work on commercialisation of ideas to bring innovations developed by research institutions to the market.
We learned about LemnaTec’s technology and most interestingly about the success story of LemnaTec how the company was founded in the Ecotoxicology department at RWTH, the University of Aachen in 1998. Back in the days of 1990s when digital cameras were not common yet, the company’s founders started with developing a method to simplify their work of counting and assessing duckweed [Lemna minor] in larger scale. 20 years later we look at a giant technology leap into the digital age where LemnaTec constructed the largest agricultural phenotyping robot in the world, which is now scanning through an experimental field in Arizona, USA with a lenght of 200 meters, carrying 2 tons of electronic equipment. It is amazing that behind all that is a small company with around 30 employees in Aachen.
Tino and Marcus were very enthusiastic about their work and clearly stated the diversity of their duties in the company like programming, engineering, science, customer service and training, sales and administration as a clear plus and see it as a big advantage in their personal development.
LemnaTec is constantly working on new innovations and is therefore always keen on interacting with scientists who might apply and test their new innovations on their research objects. Therefore, CEPLAS will definitely stay in touch.
Bottom-line: LemnaTec supports customers with their equipment and especially with discovering the optimal phenotyping pipeline to save work force, to automate and standardise the process. Something we bench workers dream of.
On October 16, 2017 18 CEPLAS young researchers were visiting guests in the headquarters of the company WeGrow GmbH in Tönisvorst. WeGrow develops and implements Kiri-cultivation projects for sustainable timber production. The Kiri tree is considered to be the strongest growing tree of the world that can grow 5 meters in a year under ideal growth conditions. Mr. Peter Diessenbacher, the technical manager and founder of WeGrow personally welcomed the visiting CEPLAS young scientists. He was enthusiastic and open while telling about the founding history of WeGrow that arose in year 2009 as a spin-off company from a research project at the University of Bonn. In an active exchange with Mr. Diessenbacher the CEPLAS visitors received first-hand information about the Kiri cultivation, the application of Kiri timber as well as the experience and challenges of a company foundation. On a tour through the company the CEPLAS scientists visited the WeGrow laboratories, green houses and the Kiri plantation and had the opportunity to see Kiri plants in different growing phases, as fragile plants growing on medium in plastic dishes or as trees on plantations in nature. At the end of the visit everyone got a souvenir Kiri plant in a test tube. We thank WeGrow for the warm welcome and the interesting insights in the world of Kiri tree production as well as the history of WeGrow’s foundation.
In January 2017 a group of 18 CEPLAS young researchers had the opportunity to visit the KWS Saat AG in Einbeck, near Göttingen. They were accompanied by Andreas Weber, Rüdiger Simon and Juliane Schmid. KWS Saat AG is the 4th largest producer of crop seeds worldwide. A guided tour through the company production facilities and brand new greenhouses provided interesting insights into the challenges and technical solutions of producing high quality crop seeds. KWS Saat employers later presented their positions in the company and very openly discussed differences between university and company employment. In a lively session with the group, breeding objectives such as yield, stress resistance and processability were discussed. Political topics such as the use of conventional breeding versus GMOs in Europe were also addressed. The subsequent poster session, where CEPLAS young researchers presented their projects, was well attended by KWS SAAT scientists and fruitful discussions took place.
Cultural and social aspects were addressed in the evening, when Günter Strittmatter met the group and a city tour guide presented the small town of Einbeck and its history, whose wealth in former times was largely dependent on the production of beer. In line with this, the group spent the evening in the tavern Brodhaus, enjoying dinner and a beer-tasting.
Jennifer Hage-Hülsmann and Vera Wever
In late September 2016 a small group of CEPLAS young researchers visited Phytowelt Green Technologies GmbH in Cologne. Four Postdocs and six PhDs were accompanied by Ute Höcker, speaker of the CEPLAS Graduate School. While the head office of Phytowelt Green Technologies GmbH is located in Nettetal, the R&D facilities are situated at Cologne BioCampus which hosts numerous companies from the life science sector and is one of the largest biotechnology parks in Germany.
Phytowelt Green Technologies as it exists today was founded in 2006 as a spin-off from the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research. The service and research processes of the company bridge white and green biotechnology including an expertise on secondary plant metabolites and their production in microorganisms as well as the improvement of plants as renewable resource for bioenergy and biomaterials by protoplast fusion.
After a brief welcome by the company’s CSO, Dr. Guido Jach, our young researchers had the opportunity to present their work in an elevator pitch. After that the group got an inside into the main research activities of Phytowelt, focusing on the production of doubled haploid plants (expert Dr. Jens Weyen) and protoplast fusion. The excursion was completed by a visit to the company’s poplar field next to the BioCampus. CEPLAS young researchers were given the opportunity to see tetraploid poplar lines with increased biomass – a vivid result of Phytowelt’s experience in protoplast fusion.
In mid February, a group of 14 CEPLAS Ph.D. students and Postdocs participated in an excursion to Berlin to visit the BASF company metanomics. The group was accompanied by Rüdiger Simon and Günter Strittmatter.
The company is specialised on metabolite profiling and was initially founded as a joint venture between scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology and BASF AG and is now a member of the international BASF Plant Science platform. After an introduction by the company’s CEO, our young researchers had the opportunity to present their projects to a group of metanomics scientists and to get a guided tour through the large facility park and the greenhouses. After that, CEPLAS young researchers and metanomics scientists met again for subsequent networking. Short talks about the research divisions of the company and their focus were followed by stimulating discussions.
Apart from the highly interesting visit at metanomics, the CEPLAS group took the time for a guided city tour in Berlin and visited the German Bundestag where they were lucky to take part in an official debate.
On September 10-11, 25 PhD students and Postdocs took part in the excursion to Keygene and Nunhems organised by CEPLAS. On the first day, the young researchers visited the company Keygene in Wageningen who offer trait platforms as well as innovative echnologies for plant breeding. There, they were able to get insights into their impressing sequencing facility and the phenotyping lab.
On the second day, the company Nunhems (part of Bayer Crop Science) was visited. Nunhems is specialised for high-quality vegetable seeds. At the large company, the participants got to see different labs and afterwards the giant cucumbers in the greenhouse, used for seed production. In both companies, the young researchers had the opportunity to present their own research projects and to discuss issues of mutual interest.